Alberto Rayo is a Peruvian comic book writer who has taken part in a multitude of different projects, including the recent Heavy Metal #298, the anthology centered around the experiences of mixed-race people Electrum, and the terror anthology Local Haunts. He also edits and writes short stories in other various mediums that you can find in his linkr.ee, and you can follow him on his Instagram and Twitter. His next upcoming project is a short story for the anthology MAÑANA, soon to be launched in Kickstarter by Power & Magic Press, as well as other collaborative projects with his artistic team Broken Panel Studio. We had the pleasure of sitting with him to talk about his work, how his experiences and influences (both traditional and contemporary) shape it, and his writing process.
Here’s the result!
Comic Watch: Hi Alberto! Thank you so much for gifting us at Comic Watch with your time! First of all, what are you working on lately? What’s on your desk? what are you excited about?
Alberto Rayo: Hi! Well, I have a comic being edited at the moment for an anthology, some work for hire adapting some prose and tv scripts into comic script for independent writers and I’m editing the work of a local collective for another anthology here in Latin America. I’m also working on some short comics with my team in Broken Panel Studio.
CW: In Heavy Metal #298, you wrote a beautiful short story about art and the relationships between the characters, the world contained and the author, surrounded by a sci-fi setting and the awesome art of Dary Huari, Isai Mu?ake and Diego Revelo. How was that writing experience? What inspired you to do this very meta-comic book script?
AR: It was really fun to write that comic. Dary and I first created the characters of Val and Stella to tell Doctor Who-like short and visual impacting adventures. I wanted to be experimental from the start, and thought that having creatures that show parts of the future and the past of the comic itself would be a good start. Then I realized it was too difficult to write as a script, so I made a storyboard for it which I gave Dary (besides the dialogue script). The trickiest part was the double-page spread, but I think we pulled it off. On the surface, it was inspired by Doctor Who, but the meta of it was inspired by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s Challengers of the Unknown mini-series and the narrative tricks of Maco, an Uruguayan comic artist who excels at these. I want to try more stuff like this.
CW: You have also collaborated recently in two anthologies: Electrum, anthology about mixed-race experiences, and Local Haunts, about ghost stories from your town. How was working in these two stories? Did these two writing experiences intertwine in time or theme (as in the place relating to the perception of oneself) or not at all?
AR: Each process was different. For Electrum, I did research on the survey system of my country, the experiences of the pollsters had besides mine in the 2017 National Census where the story takes place. I also used the district of my childhood for it. The story worked as a good introduction for the anthology and I’m glad it made people start asking these self-perception questions about themselves. For Local Haunts, I used a pretty obscure urban legend and for it I used the place I’m currently living.
Both stories use locations I personally know but Mestizo (the story for Electrum) relies a lot in the culture and context I introduced for the reader, while in The Scream (the story for Local Haunts), I intended to make the bring the reader to a situation of fear and bewilderment. It’s a horror comic after all.
CW: You’re also gonna take part of Power & Magic‘s anthology MAÑANA, about a futurist (500 years into the future) Latin America. I have read in that and another of your stories visions about the future that show a deep connection to tradition, like surely it’s sci-fi, but I feel the imagination is flying with its root in the past in a compelling way. How do these two perspectives connect when you write?
AR: Oh, yes. It’s something I really want to focus on: andeanfuturism. I want to build sci-fi that departs from militarist perspectives and show an impact of culture on the scientific development. This, for me, also means the end of this schism between science and spiritualism in the worldbuilding, the embrace of cosmovisions from indigenous roots (in my case, Andean cosmovisions), centering environmentalism and pretty much be anti-colonial in my stories. I think while it is also something different to a genre that it’s supposed about breaking the bounds of itself and always be innovating, it’s that it spotlights people that have not been represented in comics before. In this case, indigenous Andean people and mestizos.
CW: On the other hand, in various of your short stories there’s a preoccupation with AI and the future in the way less humane ways of communication, interaction, etc. might be carried. What inspires you to write some stories in a very hopeful light and others in a more dystopic one?
AR: There are some things in technology’s advancement that fascinate me and scare me at the same time, they are both pretty similar emotions. What inspires me in Sci-Fi in general is the sense of strangeness and otherness the future or the cosmic should provoke on us. And after that, it’s up to me to decide if that otherness is warm or cold. As direct inspirations, for the hopeful stories and my purpose with andeanfuturism there is the work of Karen Lord and Nnedi Okorafor. For the dystopic ones, Black Mirror and pretty much the whole Apple aesthetic. The Future ending up as an iStore is my one fear.
CW: Let’s get now to your writing inspirations more generally. What writers inspire you or made you want to write? How did you get into comics?
AR: There is a ton of writers and creator in general I consider inspiring. For comic writers in this last decade: Kieron Gillen, Al Ewing, G. Willow Wilson, Ram V and Eve Ewing; their work in comics is groundbreaking and there won’t be anyone like them in at least ten more years.
The ones that made me want to write are either more popular and mainstream or more local to me: Argentinian comic book writer H. G. Oesterheld (Creator of the Eternauta), Uruguayan cartoonist Maco whose experimenting on the medium is still mind-breaking after nearly a decade on the industry, Grant Morrison and Alan Moore.
I got into comics as a reader early on. I used to love going to the hairdresser saloon when I was four because they had comics like Asterix, Tintin, Condorito and Mafalda for the kids waiting, that’s practically where I started. Then I got into manga during school. Last years of high school I started reading a lot of underground comics either local or American, and just after school, I started reading American super-hero comics.
CW: On the same vein, and on your writing processes, what does your writing process look like when you have an idea? And later, when you collaborate with the artist on its way to getting published or submitted?
AR: One of the sins of my writing processes is pretty much messaging the artist to tell them “I have an idea”, when I have like one scene in mind and a feeling of how the story would vibe. (After this, I try to be as upfront as possible about the publishing expectations for the story, number of pages, pay rates and schedule).
I tend to have moments and elements I want to use that I keep annotated, then I join and discard them while working on the storyline. I always have in mind one panel or sequence I really really want to show, and I build everything so that moment is shown correctly.
About collaborating with artists, my scripts depend a lot on my familiarity with the team. The less experience I have with them, the more descriptions and directions I write. With my current team, for example, I don’t longer decide the angles for the shots in panels, except when it’s important story-wise, since I know what the artist might decide and they know the usual panels I like to use.
CW: Well, thank you so much for the interview again. And to close it, since we’re now in a time where a lot of artists are struggling – especially if they relied on daily jobs -, what do you advise people to do if they want to support an indie or less known artists they love?
AR: These moments are truly challenging. What we can do is share and promote each other works as much as possible. A retweet, sharing a post in your stories, just clicking the share button, those things can bring an artist’s products to the eyes of a new client. After all of this ends, comic sales most likely will grow back again (as the need for professionals for work for hire will also do), so it’s important that we creators stay safe during the pandemic even if our creative output is affected negatively.
Andeanfuturism, The Reconciliation Of Sci-Fi And Spiritualism: An Interview With Alberto Rayo
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